The Kidney Project is a national research collaboration led by bioengineer Shuvo Roy, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, to develop the first-ever surgically implantable artificial kidney. The project aims to offer individuals facing kidney failure an alternative to dialysis — enabling patients to lead a more mobile lifestyle that includes travel, a more liberal diet, and relief from the stress and uncertainty of waiting for a transplant. Engineered to perform the critical functions of the natural kidney, the bioartificial kidney is powered by the body’s blood pressure, with no external connections or tethers. It is designed to provide continuous treatment, filtering the blood and balancing fluid and electrolyte levels 24 hours a day, and will not require immunosuppression medications.
Over the past 15 years, the project has progressed from establishing the scientific foundations and technical methods to showing that the device’s key mechanisms work in animal models. Recently, a small-scale prototype was implanted into a healthy pig and successfully produced urine over 3 days. The researchers’ focus is now on optimizing conditions within the bioreactor to allow the cells to remain healthy for extended periods of time, along with scaling up the surface area of the silicon membranes so the device has the capacity to treat a human patient. Project leaders estimate that once the necessary funding is secured, the technology is 3-4 years away from being tested in a clinical trial.
What began as a university research project now has the potential to help hundreds of thousands of patients in kidney failure. But the project is outgrowing the traditional grant funding sources available in academia. About $10 million is needed to advance the bioartificial kidney to the point of clinical trials. The quicker this funding can be raised, the faster The Kidney Project can progress. Your gift directly supports this life-saving research. You can magnify your impact by starting a fundraiser with your family, friends, or workplace. If you have other ways you want to help, please get in touch.
The device, about the size of a coffee cup, features a compact hemofilter, or blood filter, made from semiconductor silicon membranes that are efficient enough to use the body’s blood pressure to perform filtration, without pumps or a power supply. The hemofilter is connected to a bioreactor housing cultured kidney cells that reabsorbs salts and water, regulates blood pressure, and produces vitamin D. This two-stage system replicates key kidney functions, like water balancing and metabolism regulation, that conventional dialysis does not. Incorporating physical and biochemical sensors, the device will be able to detect malfunctions and monitor blood flow, urea clearance, and electrolyte balance. Information on device performance and the patient’s health status can be wirelessly sent to the patient and healthcare provider.